Bojangles’ Restaurants Inc. opened its 600th location of Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’n Biscuits earlier this month, a milestone toward the company’s goal of reaching 1,000 units by 2020 and $1 billion in annual systemwide sales it projects to hit by the third quarter of this year.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based brand expects to add 55 to 60 locations this year in more than 25 markets, executive vice president and general counsel Eric Newman said.

While that would match some of the “growth spurts” in the 1980s that included unit openings in markets way outside Bojangles’ base of the Southeast — many of which had to close a few years later — the brand has learned how to grow fast by studying its past, Newman said.

The chain’s focus the past few years has been on back-filling markets in 11 states and the District of Columbia, taking a targeted approach to leveraging its branding in the Southeast. During the years of low turnover resulting from the last recession, the company revamped its management recruiting and retention strategies, helping restaurants operate their way to higher average unit volumes and market share in their areas, Newman said.

“We’ve been focusing very strongly on filling markets already in our footprint and where we have significant presence,” he said. “We decided to focus on market share in those markets rather than go to too many far-flung places too quickly. We’re engaged in where the next major places for us would be, but that’s different from just responding to inquiries whenever they come and for wherever.”

That focus on building in areas of strength and bolstering market share has created a virtuous circle in which more restaurant locations have resulted in higher awareness in sales, which have put more dollars in Bojangles’ marketing fund, which has resulted in higher average unit volumes and more store growth, Newman said.

“During the recession, we saw that increasing market share alone is probably the best marketing you can do,” he said. “We’re very highly penetrated in the Carolinas, but we’re moving quickly into Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. A lot of that growth is in second-generation franchise growth, because as [those operators] run out of room, they’re pushing for outside growth on the borders of their footprints.”

But a significant amount of Bojangles’ unit count is company-owned, at about 40 percent, he said, adding that new development is weighted toward a similar 60–40-percent division between franchise and corporate growth.

Being “major restaurateurs as a company” is what helped Bojangles’ accelerate its unit growth while simultaneously increasing its average unit volume to a level just north of $1.72 million per year, Newman said. The company is targeting a $2 million average unit volume in the next few years.

“We spent many years building our own corporate operations rather than selling them off, which gives us the engines and the employee base from which to grow,” Newman said. “Management of recent years has been very enlightened. During the recession, they increased market share, so our best years were through the down times.”

Bojangles’ was founded in 1977 as a walk-up restaurant in Charlotte, N.C., with no seating.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN